Cthulhu Mythos Encyclopedia – Foreword, Part 6

After Derleth’s death in 1971, Lovecraft’s popularity grew at a phenomenal rate ‑‑ though whether these two events were connected is hotly debated. What is known is that the Seventies saw a boom of Lovecraft‑ related material on several different fronts. L. Sprague de Camp published his famous work Lovecraft: A Biography (1975), the occultist Kenneth Grant linked Lovecraft’s fictional symbols to the works of Aleister Crowley in The Magical Revival (1972), and Mythos books such as Brian Lumley’s The Burrowers Beneath (1974) and E. P. Berglund’s anthology The Disciples of Cthulhu (1976) appeared at a surprising rate. One of the guiding lights of this period was Lin Carter, a prolific author and the editor of the Ballantine Adult Fantasy Series who would often include Mythos fiction in his anthologies. Amateur press organizations such as the Esoteric Order of Dagon flourished, their members sending each other chapbooks and newsletters filled with both literary criticism and fiction. It was a good time for Lovecraft devotees.


To the chagrin of many in the Lovecraft‑Mythos community, the most influential Lovecraftian works to come out of the Seventies were not among those mentioned above. Instead, they were different editions of the Necronomicon, Lovecraft’s fictional book. The most influential of these, known as the “Simon” Necronomicon, was a grimoire originating from the Warlock Shop in Brooklyn that linked Lovecraft’s Mythos with Sumerian mythology. Running close behind was the “George Hay/Colin Wilson” Necronomicon, which asserted that Lovecraft had received his inspiration from Masonic lore gained through his father. Though neither Sumerian mythology nor Freemasonry impacted Lovecraft’s work in any significant way, most of the readers of these Necronomicons have not realized this, and these misconceptions are still circulated today.


During this period, a split occurred between those concerned with literary criticism of Lovecraft and those more interested in the Cthulhu Mythos. When Derleth was alive, he would often publish critical essays along with Mythos fiction in his anthologies, but after his death the situation deteriorated. Lovecraft scholars became incensed at Derleth for foisting his own interpretation of Lovecraft’s work on all his readers. In addition, they decided to de-emphasize the Cthulhu Mythos’ significance, in order to separate Lovecraft from other writers in the genre and to stress other aspects of his work, such as its philosophy and literary influences. This split does not appear to have been entirely amicable, and though some authors are comfortable with writing both Lovecraft criticism and Mythos fiction, tension still exists between members of the two groups.


In 1980, the Arkham anthology New Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos brought new voices into the Mythos arena. Instead of sustaining the Seventies trend, however, New Tales signaled an end to the Mythos boom. It is difficult to say why enthusiasm flagged, but it might have had something to do with the way in which material was circulated. After Jim Turner took over the editorship of Arkham House following Derleth’s death, that publisher moved away from Cthulhu Mythos fiction. Although it still issued Lovecraft’s work, it became more concerned with more traditional varieties of science fiction and horror. No publisher truly rose to the occasion as Arkham House’s successor, leaving many of the Cthulhu Mythos stories to be printed in a variety of anthologies, magazines, and small‑press publications. There was no way for potential fans to find out about this material save by word of mouth, a difficult proposition when so much of it received limited circulation to begin with. Though other factors were probably at work, this was probably the most important. For the time being, Mythos publishing went into hibernation.


For the next fifteen years, little Lovecraftian material appeared on the market, and the movement appeared to have been merely a passing fad. The groundwork for the next resurgence was already being laid, however. One of the most important factors was the release of the Call of Cthulhu role-playing game in 1981. Its creator, Sandy Petersen, combined the lore from many different Cthulhu Mythos authors to assemble the monsters and books to create the background for his game. Call of Cthulhu brought Lovecraft and the Cthulhu Mythos to the attention of many who would otherwise not have encountered it, providing key information on its own selection of elements in a single place. Until recently, it had little influence on writers – Petersen’s “Outer Gods”, a term coined for the more powerful beings in the Mythos, has only appeared in fiction in the past five years – but it nonetheless established a broad base of fans to whom future work would appeal.


Published in: on January 23, 2008 at 7:41 pm  Comments (3)  

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Call of Cthulhu was released in 1981, not 1980.

  2. Did Petersen coin “Other Gods”? I think that it is “Outer Gods”.

  3. Thanks to both of you! I’ll make sure those get into the proofs.

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